MAKING THE WINNING CALL
All the predictive software in the world won’t save you when
real life intervenes to ruin your meticulously-crafted F1 race
strategy. That’s when it’s time to start thinking on the fly.
PART GUT INSTINCT…
WORDS Mark Hughes MAIN IMAGE Steven Tee/LAT
The closeness of Mercedes and Ferrari in
2017 means getting a strategy call even
slightly wrong can be a losing proposition.
trategy is as old as grand prix racing
itself – manufacturers employed sacrificial
“hares” to break the opposition and pave
the way for their favored car right from
the start, and up through to the 1950s –
but the prevailing regulations and
innovations have constantly changed
what race strategy actually comprises.
In today’s Formula 1, with race
refueling banned and the use of at least
two tire compounds mandatory during
a race, it’s a highly specialized and
data-driven discipline – but not totally
devoid of gut instinct and rolls of the dice.
Banks of extremely clever people in
both the team garage and the directly-linked factory operations room analyze a
grand prix in real time, feeding a flow of
information to help the race strategists
make their calls. Get those calls even
slightly wrong and you’ll likely be beaten
by whoever has a car of similar
performance – or even a slower one.
Sophisticated software is used to
predict and extrapolate in GPS-guided
real time, visually guiding those on the pit
wall on where, for example, their car will
come out after a stop. It’s incredibly finely-honed and optimized, using algorithms
and theories on a par with anything that
Wall St., the pacesetter on predictive
techniques, would use to ascertain trends
in a volatile financial market.
At the front of the grid, race-winning
decisions will be based on tiny details
imposed by the relative performance of
the cars, rather than “outside the box”
inspired calls, which tend to be used only
by those at the back with little to lose.
The over-arching factor defining race
strategy is car performance. Strategies
can look much better if you have a raw
performance advantage that opens up a
greater array of ways to run your race.
Within those parameters, and current
regulations that encompass a control tire
supplier (Pirelli) and five pre-defined
compounds – three of which will be brought
to a given race; which ones depending on
the demands of that particular track –
race strategy is all about optimizing
performance between the available tires.